June­–July 2015        

Spain’s working people strike back

Tomás Mac Síomóin

Spain’s municipal and local elections on the 24th of May ushered in a democratic revolution that may be unstoppable. The establishment parties, the neo-liberal People’s Party (PP) and the equally neo-liberal Spanish Socialist Labour Party (PSOE) lost heavily, their share of the vote falling from 70 per cent in 2007 to 52 per cent.
     A phalanx of anti-austerity citizen parties, articulated by Podemos (“we can”), was the beneficiary of this anti-government surge. Podemos itself, only a year old, did not have the time to vet prospective candidates all over Spain and did not stand as such; instead it encouraged its members and supporters to participate in the elections through their local citizens’ organisations.
     And participate they did. Control of Spain’s three biggest cities—Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, conservative fiefdoms for over twenty years—has now passed to the hands of anti-austerity organisations. Madrid’s new mayor will be 71-year-young Manuela Carmena, a retired judge and prominent Communist Party activist in her younger years. The nationally prominent anti-eviction activist Ada Colau, leader of Barcelona en Comú (“Barcelona in common”) is now mayor of that city.
     Valencia, both province and city, has been a PP stronghold since 1978. However, the anti-austerity Compromis, led by Monica Oltra, swept the PP from power. The PP president of the region has already resigned, and the notoriously corrupt city administration, including its mayor, is being replaced. Oltra, born in Germany of émigré Republican parents, was schooled in Communist Party activism from her earlier years.
     Similar transfers of power are happening throughout Spain, especially in urban areas. As national elections will be held here later this year, some PP pundits are already gloomily prognosticating a collapse of the establishment party vote and the “danger” of the country becoming a “Bolivarian dictatorship.”
     Some idea of what sparks conservative fears can be gleaned from looking at the aims of Ada Colau’s programme for Barcelona:
     • An immediate end to evictions and guaranteed housing for all citizens.
     • An immediate end to the privatisation of public and municipal services and the sale of public property.
     • A guaranteed supply of basic requisites (light and water) to households that cannot afford them.
     • Guaranteed access by all to municipal health services, irrespective of their administrative status.
     • The development of an urgent plan to facilitate bringing youth and the long-term unemployed into the work-force.
     • The elimination of poverty by providing all citizens with a basic income.
     In the meantime Oltra (like her fellow-mayor in Madrid) has drastically reduced her mayoral salary and will be selling off the municipality’s fleet of official cars.
     The seeds of these radical successes were sown during the protests of 15 May 1913 against privatisation and the austericidal policies being implemented by the PP government. These, and a chain of similar protests, brought millions onto the streets throughout Spain—to no effect! The protest organisers, familiar at first hand with revolutionary situations in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, realised, like Lenin (“Nothing in our times can be done without elections; nothing can be done without the masses”), that protest needed to become an effective electoral force if austericide and widespread corruption were to be replaced by a just and democratic social order.
     Furthermore, in an environment where the mainstream communications media were at the exclusive disposal of the class enemy, the latest communications technologies had to be used maximally to get the message to the masses.
     Preceded by Procés Constituyent (one of whose founders in April 2013 was Sister Teresa Forcades, who spoke at the recent Connolly Festival in Dublin), the founding of Podemos in January 2014 was a watershed in Spain’s democratic revolution. A leading Podemos instigator, Juan Carlos Monadero, invested fees earned as adviser to the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments in a political on-line television service, La Tuerka (“the screw”), devoted to detailed discussion of the political questions of the day. By facing controversial issues head on, and by successful on-screen confrontations with ideological adversaries, La Tuerka soon acquired a nationwide audience. Monadero was joined by Pablo Iglesias, Iñigo Errejón and Carolina Bescansa, all political scientists and destined to become the core leadership of Podemos.
     Most importantly, La Tuerka served as a training school for these and other Podemos activists within which they could develop their formidable communicative skills. Its “graduates” were soon in hot demand on political talk shows, notably on the widely watched La Sexta, Spain’s sixth television channel. Some, like Monadero himself and Iglesias, now general secretary of Podemos, became expert in demolishing counter-arguments and acquired national celebrity status. Known as La Coleta (“the pigtail”) because of his distinctive hairstyle, Iglesias is particularly adept at getting his radical message across in terms that the average citizen easily understands.
     Only four months after its foundation, Podemos won 8 per cent of the vote in the EU Parliament elections, gaining five deputies, thus becoming Spain’s fourth-largest party. By October 2014 it had 200,000 members and was the largest party by voting intention. Iglesias was one of these deputies, a position he relinquished earlier this year when he was elected, overwhelmingly, general secretary of Podemos.
     The aim of Podemos now is to build on its successes in last month’s municipal elections to mount a successful campaign to replace the PP in government in Spain’s national election later this year. This would break the bipartisan PP-PSOE lock on Spanish national politics, which has left working people here without an effective voice and set the country on course for a thoroughgoing renegotiation of the terms of the country’s membership of the EU.
     The ability of newly elected anti-austerity councillors and mayors to translate their democratic ideals into effective action will be the key to the party’s future success, or otherwise. That they will do this in the face of stiff opposition, dirty tricks and unremittingly harsh criticism from media linked to powerful vested interests is a given.
     Sister Teresa Forcades warns that the main parties are in close cahoots with major financial institutions. They, together with employers’ and industrialists’ organisations, are already sounding the warning bells.
     However, the performance of Podemos since its beginnings last year gives grounds for confidence in its ability and its firm resolve to stay on course and do the business.

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